Family & Ancestry


Family & Writing

Q. Did your knowledge of your family history help you in writing books whose stories cover many generations?

A. Yes. Specifically, it may have helped that my father was almost the youngest of a large family. So I spent much time with older uncles and aunts who'd been born in the nineteenth century. Not only that, they had been brought up abroad, by parents whose ideas of England came from an earlier generation still. So the atmosphere in which I was accustomed to finding myself dated back almost to Napoleonic times. When I research people living two hundred years ago, it's more like remembering than learning. Add that to what I know of my own family history and the histories that many kind readers have sent me of their families, and one builds up a big framework in the imagination of how people lived through historical events.

Q. A framework in which to place your historical research.

A. Certainly that. But also a sense of the great, continuous sweep of the past, of lives to which one is connected. It may be a rather primitive thing, but I can't help a strange warm feeling, as if I'm living in a world full of echoes, and that I can feel my ancestors inside me. And -this is certainly a trick of the imagination - but even writing about the distant past, I feel as if I am back where I have been before. I can't help that either. These are deep well springs of the imagination.

Did You Know?
Lost Island. About 1,000 feet south of the Rockaway shores, off the coast of Queens in New York City, a one mile long island which I make mention of in NEW YORK – called Hog Island - had by the late nineteenth century became a favourite getaway “back room business” gathering spot for some of the city’s most powerful Tamany Hall politicians, and even attracted beach resort businesses and developers. But following the infamous Hurricane of 1893, which made landfall in New York City in August of that year, the island all but disappeared under the sea, and was lost entirely by 1902. Almost a century later, following two particularly devastating storms, hundreds of artifacts from the late nineteenth century washed up on the shores of southern Long Island, believed to have come from Hog Island.




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